While stakeholders are gearing up for access to Namibia’s potentially lucrative marine phosphate reserves, officials are adamant that an 18-minth moratorium imposed in 2013, which expired in 2015, is still in place. “It was never lifted,” was all the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Dr Moses Maurihungirire, would say about in response to questrions about the moratorium, which is still being observed.

However, investors eager to start reaping profits are said to be preparing for the lifting of the moratorium. Interested parties from as far afield as Israel are said to be preparing to mine Namibia’s marine phosphate. A recent report noted that Israel Chemicals has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lev Leviev Namibia Phosphate to conduct a feasibility study to mine marine phosphate and possibly establish a fertiliser plant in Namibia.

Critics of a completed report on the environmental impact of marine phosphate mining, called the report inconclusive.

“The report was cooked by fisheries scientists, who only focused on the impact on the fishing industry. A comprehensive report should actually draw a developmental comparison between the fisheries and mining industries,” said one critic who preferred anonymity.

Towards mid-2015 the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations called for an ongoing phosphate moratorium to allow effective scientific analysis for an environmental baseline study with necessary scientific supporting data. At the time, chairperson of the association Matti Amukwa said the fishing industry fully backs Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Bernhard Esau in his battle to ensure an effective ongoing moratorium on marine phosphate mining. “This is essential so that proper independent on-site research at sea can be undertaken by international expert scientists to assess potential marine phosphate mining impacts on the health of the Benguela Current ecosystem before any decision is made on whether to give the green light to marine phosphate mining,” Amukwa said. He also raised concerns over a verification study commissioned by a company called Namibia Marine Phosphate that was apparently completed and submitted to the Environmental Commissioner’s office several months ago.

“We’re concerned that Namibia Marine Phosphates is trying to avoid rigorous outside assessment of the document, and thereby shortcut the official process of getting the environmental clearance for their environmental impact assessment from the Environmental Commissioner’s office. If they are successful, they will have the crucial piece of paper giving them the right to mine,” he stated.

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